Up Front: The Shame of the CYA
November 1, 2008
We all have to be careful and CYA. Everyone knows what CYA is an acronym for. Sometimes, people can go too far and lose sight of what is really important. The following is a true story that shows how CYA can hurt innocent people.
A condominium permitted in 1995 by a building department did not meet the code for egress. The builder altered the building during construction and city inspectors failed to catch the alterations. After 15 years the new owners discover leaks from inadequate flashing and a non-code compliant roof. In submitting for a remodel permit, the city discovers its 15-year-old mistake and denies a re-roof permit and orders the owners to make the building code compliant. The only repair now acceptable to meet code is a new fire-sprinkler system. The owners will have to pay about $200,000 per unit to install sprinklers, excluding new roof or flashing repairs. These are not wealthy people. And they cannot afford both.
I was sent to negotiate with the city with regard to fire life/safety options. We came up with several cost effective alternatives that would make the building safer and stay within the owner’s budget. All of my proposals were rejected. The city saw a chance to CYA on a past mistake. The unit owners now had a building they were required to disclose as non-code compliant as noted by the city. Who would buy? One unit was for sale and all potential buyers ran. I fought hard for these people and my emotions ran deep, maybe too deep.
A REAL WAR STORY
You see, months earlier I was in one of the board member’s units and noticed a newspaper clipping from a Midwest state. It was framed, yellow, faded and dated 1944. It was the account of a young American pilot from that small mid-western town and his depleted squadron of P47 Thunderbolts flying back from a mission in Germany. Low on fuel and ammunition they were doing what they could to get back safely. On the radio, the young American captain heard a company of American soldiers were surround by a German panzer (tank) brigade. The American soldiers on the ground were trapped and being slaughtered. The American ground forces had no artillery, no support and faced certain death. With no regard for personal safety, the pilot and his small squadron diverted to the scene. The P47s took out the panzers and lost three planes and the pilots in the process as they ran out of fuel.
While many Americans died that day, many were saved. The captain was noted as individually destroying five panzers. That was the largest one day kill of panzers for an American pilot. Captain Robert Mower was given the Congressional Medal of Honor for the American lives he and his squad saved that day. The medal was framed next to the article. Mr. Mower said in a low humble voice “We just did what we had to do.” He did not speak about the incident as I could tell he lost his friends and it was not something he wanted to reminisce about. The “greatest generation” fits.
The reason this had special meaning to me was my father and grandfather were paratroopers. My grandfather served in World War II and was caught in the battle of Bastogne. Surrounded by a German panzer division and facing certain death, the commander of the 101st Airborne was asked to surrender. His infamous reply of “nuts” was translated into “Go to BLANK.” My grandfather would have certainly died if not for the Patton’s Third Army marching days through one of the worst winters on record to re-enforce the 101st Airborne. It was men like Robert Mower that saved my family. I owed him the best effort I could give.
I wish I could tell you this had a happy ending, but I was unable to convince the building department to be reasonable. I wanted to take the story to the media about how the city was treating a war hero. My emotions took over. However, Mower would have no part of it. The Mowers lived on a fixed income and had to sell their condominium at a substantial loss and move into an assisted care facility. I failed an American hero. When did CYA become more important than doing the right thing? W&C